Recent scholarly attention shows increasing involvement of local low-carbon energy initiatives (LLCEIs) in governance and policy, in particular in relation to innovations regarding low-carbon energy and energy efficiency. The future perspective of active citizenship in the production of locally generated low-carbon energy is largely dependent on the existing institutional and policy frameworks and settings. Subnational governments, in particular, can have a prominent role in this process by engaging in institutional adaptation and policy innovation. The central research question of this paper is: In what ways do local and regional governments innovate in governing to respond to the emergence of LLCEIs?
The research question is answered by comparing two case studies: the Dutch regions of Overijssel and Fryslân. We have conceptualized a meta-governing approach of experimentation, characterizing the innovations in governing that emerge when governments respond to the emergence of LLCEIs. We specifically focus on two capacities that subnational governments can use to enhance their governing capacity vis-à-vis LLCEIs and which substantiate the experimental meta-governance mode: institutional adaptation and policy innovation. We then formulated hypotheses that specify the expected policy innovations and institutional adaptations employed vis-à-vis LLCEIs. Data collection involved in-depth interviews and use of secondary data. The results show that a balancing process of authoritative and enabling modes of governing particularly characterized the type of policy innovations that were developed and the institutional adaptations that took place. Both provinces govern LLCEIs at arm’s length and issue significant capacity-building strategies that vary in terms of their conditions. Municipalities, however, incline towards impromptu and opportunistic responses, some of them having lasting effects by patching up existing institutional settings, others having more of an episodic character. The results will further the understanding of subnational low-carbon policy and governance innovation processes vis-à-vis the role of LLCEIs.
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